Paralympians To Watch At The Desert Challenge Games
by Lela Moore
Lex Gillette competes in long jump at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. (Photo: Getty Images)
The track and field events kick off Friday for athletes at the Desert Challenge Games presented by The Hartford in Mesa, Arizona. The Desert Challenge Games began Thursday with swimming and will wrap up Sunday with archery. In addition to track and field, they also include air pistol and rifle events.
More than 25 members of Team USA are set to compete at the Desert Challenge Games, including several track and field athletes who participated in the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 last September.
The Desert Challenge Games began in 1990. They were the product of a collaboration between the Mesa Public Schools and the City of Mesa Parks, Recreation, and Community Facilities, who two years earlier had joined forces to create Mesa Association of Sports for the Disabled (MASD), which provided Para sports opportunities for athletes of all ages. MASD became a registered nonprofit in 1989.
In 1991, just a year after they began, the Desert Challenge Games became a regional qualifier, with 125 athletes from seven states and Canada. In 2013, the Desert Challenge Games became an International Paralympic Committee Grand Prix event, one of just six in the world and the only one in North America.
This year, 340 athletes from 12 countries, ages 7 through adulthood, will compete at the Desert Challenge Games in all four sports. Clinics will also be held in air pistol and rifle, powerlifting and sit volleyball.
While MASD continues to operate as a partnership with the Town of Mesa, the Para sports programs rebranded as Arizona Disabled Sports (AzDS) in 2007. The International Paralympic Committee recognizes AzDS, now a registered 501c3 corporation, as a Gold Level Paralympic Sport Club.
Paralympic Sports Clubs are community organizations that recruit and develop Para athletes and form a pipeline for eligible athletes to the Paralympic Games. A gold-level club is providing elite coaching and training.
More than 1,000 athletes now compete in local, national, and international events through AzDS, and more than 500 athletes globally compete in events that AzDS sponsors. AzDS hosts the Desert Challenge Games in partnership with the Town of Mesa.
Here are some of the top athletes who will be competing in track and field this weekend in Mesa.
Mason, who won the T45-47 200-meter in 26.08 at the World Para Athletics Grand Prix held in Dubai in March, will compete at the Desert Challenge Games. Mason finished first in both the 100-meter and the 200-meter at the Drake Relays in April. Mason won a gold medal as part of the 4x100 universal relay and silver medals in the 100 and the 200 in Tokyo. Mason is also a world champion in the 100, a title she earned in Dubai in 2019. At the 2021 Desert Challenge Games, Mason won the 200 in 25.39. She’s back this year to defend her crown.
Gillette, a five-time Paralympian, will compete in the T11 long jump at the Desert Challenge Games. He is the only completely blind athlete to ever jump farther than 22 feet. Gillette won silver in the long jump in Tokyo, as well as in Rio, London, Beijing and Athens. He won gold in the long jump at the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai. Gillette also works as a motivational speaker and as a singer.
The three-time Paralympian will throw the discus and the club in the F51 category at the Desert Challenge Games. Mitchell won a silver in the club throw in Tokyo and placed fourth in the discus. In Rio, she won a silver in the discus and a bronze in the club. When she’s not competing, Mitchell is an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Georgia Tech, where her research centers on neuropathology.
Corso won a surprise silver medal in Tokyo in the T13 1500-meter with a time of 4:30.67, at the time a personal best by 13 seconds. Corso, who is legally blind, competes in the NCAA for Lipscomb University in Nashville. She lowered her 1500 PR again to 4:29.67, finishing fourth, at the Outdoor Music City Challenge, held in Nashville in April. In May, she picked up another PR, running 4:29.46 in the 1500 to finish seventh at the ASUN Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Jacksonville, Florida. She will compete at the Desert Challenge Games on Friday evening in the 1500.
Cinnamo will throw the shot put in the F46 category Saturday at the Desert Challenge Games. He won a bronze in the shot put in Tokyo and was the world champion in the event in Dubai in 2019. He recently competed at the Drake Relays but fouled.
Williams, a long jumper competing in the T47 class, will compete at the Desert Challenge Games. She is a two-time Paralympian, finishing fourth in the long jump in Tokyo and fifth in the event in Rio just after beginning Para sports. She won gold in the long jump at the 2017 World Para Athletics Championships in London.